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NATO chief Stoltenberg welcomes Turkish efforts in defense industry

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the efforts by the Turkish government and Turkish defense industry to invest in new high-end advanced capabilities as the country is an “important and highly valued” NATO ally.

In an exclusive interview, Stoltenberg evaluated the contributions of Türkiye, which is celebrating its 72nd anniversary of joining NATO, the place of the Turkish defense industry in NATO’s current and future opportunities and capabilities, and the steps taken by the EU while developing its own defense strategy under the umbrella of NATO.

Stoltenberg, former prime minister of Norway, has been serving as the chief of the Alliance, consisting of 32 members, since Oct. 1, 2014.

Stoltenberg’s term has been extended four times before. The last extension was made in July 2023. Leaving nearly 10 years behind in his NATO career, Stoltenberg also said that he would not take part in the search for a new secretary-general of the Alliance and that he would not seek the post again.

“Türkiye’s effort to invest in new high-level advanced capabilities, including warplanes, is important”

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, thank you so much for having Anadolu at the NATO headquarters. You have often stated that Türkiye, being a very important ally, has been contributing to collective security and regional stability for decades. This year, Türkiye celebrates the 72nd anniversary of joining NATO. Can I understand from your perspective, as the NATO secretary-general, who served approximately 10 years for the Alliance, how do you assess the contributions of Türkiye to NATO?

Answer: Türkiye is an important and highly valued NATO ally. You have been a member of this Alliance for 72 years. Just last month, we celebrated the anniversary and Türkiye has contributed our shared security to our collective defense in so many different ways. Türkiye has the second-largest army in the Alliance and well-trained and well-equipped military forces. You (Türkiye) participate in NATO missions and operations, including in Kosovo and Iraq, and not least, their geographic strategic geographic location of Türkiye bordering Iraq and Syria, but also the Black Sea and Russia in the north, of course, that is important for the whole Alliance. Türkiye plays an important role in the fight against terrorism, especially in the fight against ISIS. NATO allies and we all used bases and infrastructure in Türkiye to help fight terrorism. So, I appreciate all the efforts made by Türkiye to support the Alliance and continue to be a key ally. And then, of course, no other ally has hosted more refugees than Türkiye, and that also demonstrates the importance you play for the overall efforts of the Alliance.

Question: I guess it would not be wrong to say that we are going through a period in which the need to increase defense industry production in Europe has been felt most since the war in Ukraine. Türkiye, with this increasing military deterrence capabilities, has become one of the leading allies in this field, I guess. The country has launched nine homegrown aircraft in a decade, and the latest one is KAAN, the fifth-generation fighter jet. I wonder about your perspective on the fighter jet KAAN and the role of the Turkish defense industry in today’s NATO and NATO’s future plans.

Answer: So defense industry is very important. And the war in Ukraine has demonstrated the importance of having a strong defense industry. And I welcome the efforts by the Government of Türkiye but also the Turkish defense industry to invest in new high and advanced capabilities, including fighter jets. That’s important.

I also welcome the fact that Türkiye for many years has produced the Bayraktar drones, which has proven very effective. They have been important for Ukrainians in defending their own country. And also welcome the fact that just recently we have had new announcements of also further cooperation between defense industry in Türkiye with defense industry in the rest of the Alliance.

Also, the fact that the US will now upgrade and deliver more F-16s, Canada and Türkiye are also working when it comes to the Bayraktar drones and parts of the drones delivered by Canada. For instance, there was an announcement by the Swedish government and Türkiye that they would work more closely together to develop defense industry projects. So this is part of what Türkiye does as an individual ally, but not least, it is important that Türkiye work together with all the allies in developing and producing military capabilities.

‘NATO allies should have no restrictions on defense trade’

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, as a follow-up, Türkiye frequently raises the issue of lifting the defense trade restrictions between the allies. How do you evaluate the current situation on this issue?

Answer: I strongly believe that NATO allies should have no restrictions on defense trade between allies. We are in an Alliance where we are promised to protect and defend each other and ultimately die for each other. And, of course, then we should also be able to trade defense equipment with each other. We had a very strong statement or decision at the NATO summit in Vilnius, where allies agreed to build down barriers against trade in defense equipment. I also welcome the fact that we now see that allies are trading more with Türkiye, including the F-16s, other examples where Türkiye is able to buy key capabilities and key types of equipment from other NATO allies.

Question: I have one more question about the EU’s new strategies to develop the defense industry capabilities. This strategy, “Buy European,” encourages production and supply to be within the European Union members. Regarding the fact that most of these countries are NATO members as well, how do you evaluate this step taken “out of NATO roof” in a way that gives the impression that they exclude defense industry giants such as the US, UK and Türkiye?

‘We cannot have two-paddle defense planning processes within NATO’

Answer: Well, I think it’s important that EU and NATO allies are doing more on defense, for instance, increased defense spending, which is a prerequisite for any meaningful increased efforts on defense, and NATO has been calling for European allies to spend more on defense for years, and now they are spending more, that’s a good thing. It would also be good if the EU could do more to overcome the fragmentation of the European defense industry. And, of course, whatever the EU does to try to promote ingenuity, development or new capabilities, that’s good.

What is not good is to duplicate, compete, and overlap NATO efforts. For instance, when it comes to setting capability targets, it is important to decide what our allies are going to invest in. That’s a core NATO responsibility. It’s part of defense planning. Because any meaningful collective defense has to be based on the fact that we complement each other on the battlefield. Therefore, NATO’s defense planning and setting specific capability targets for each and every ally is something NATO does. Of course, we cannot have two-paddle defense planning processes within NATO. Those NATO allies that are both NATO and EU members cannot have two sets of targets. So it can’t be two targets. Standards: The core capability of NATO has to be something that NATO does. Then, creating new barriers between NATO allies will undermine our efforts to strengthen collective defense because new barriers will increase prices, reduce quality, and hamper ingenuity. Therefore, I believe in the transatlantic defense industrial base, including non-EU allies like the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Türkiye or Norway. And I think it’s important that we ensure that NATO is the platform for these efforts because EU-NATO allies represent 20% of NATO’s defense spending. 80% of NATO’s defense spending comes from non-EU NATO allies. And, of course, we need the whole family and 100% to work together, not create barriers between them.

‘President Erdogan a committed NATO ally’

Question: It’s too soon to give a farewell message. Now, you are preparing NATO for the Washington summit, I know. But looking back to your approximately 10 years behind, what’s the most outstanding part highlight of your tenure? And is there any chance that you will lead NATO for one more year?

Answer: It has been a privilege to serve as the secretary-general of NATO, the most successful Alliance in history at a pivotal time for our security with ISIS taking control in Iraq and Syria, a large part of Iraq and Syria, Russia invading Ukraine, of course, NATO proved its importance more than ever by keeping allies together. For me, being secretary-general in these times has been very meaningful. And I very much appreciate the close cooperation I had with ally leaders. And I very much appreciate the friendship and cooperation I have developed over many years with President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan. He is a committed NATO ally, and I appreciate that we work together; I’ve been able to work with him in many different fields, including the fight against terrorism, strengthening our collective defense, and supporting Ukraine.

‘Allies will find excellent successor’

Question: Is there any chance you can lead NATO for one more year?

Answer: Well, I’m absolutely certain that the allies will find an excellent successor. I am responsible for many decisions at the NATO but not to select my successor. I’m confident that allies will find a good solution.

Question: So, what’s your message to the candidates?

Answer: Well, I’m very careful about sending any message to candidates because I’m not part of that process. But I’m confident that allies will find a good solution.